A doomsday vault
There is a bunker on Spitsbergen Island at a depth of 130 meters. At a distance its entrance can be mistaken for the entrance to a bomb shelter. However, it is not a military facility, but rather was built for peaceful purposes – as a seed depositary, sometimes called a doomsday vault. The vault, built in the permafrost deep inside a rock, first threw its doors open on February 26, 2008.


The idea to create a global crop depositary was first floated in the 1980s. The first depositary was created by the Nordic Gene Bank in 1984 in an abandoned mine far from Spitsbergen but this facility has nothing to do with the doomsday vault, which opened in 2008. The vault was financed by the Norwegians and now the Norwegian government together with Global Crop Diversity Trust and NordGen are maintaining the bank and are responsible for the seeds' safety.

Seed banks were also built in some other countries at different times but the depositary on Spitsbergen is collecting reserve samples as it was designed to secure the nation against a situation which makes it impossible to use the government reserve. Spitsbergen is a seismically stable and demilitarized region that is accessible to vehicles, making it the perfect choice of location to build a global depositary.



Depositary building

Designed by Finnish architect Peter Soderman, the building covers an area of about 1,000 square meters and is located 100 meters deep inside a rock. The entrance to the facility is made of concrete and decorated with a fiber-optic installation designed by Norwegian artist Dyveke Sanne. In addition to fiber-optics, the artist used steel triangles, which reflect light in summer and are illuminated with the help of cables in winter.

The permafrost temperature (about minus 3.5 degrees Celsius) has proved to be inadequate to store the seeds, so a cooling system was installed in the building to keep the temperature at minus 18 C. Electricity is supplied by a power station located on Spitsbergen. In case of an emergency, generators will maintain the required temperature until the arrival of servicemen.



Over 320,000 seeds were put into the bank at the opening ceremony. It is important to note that the seeds at the depositary remain the property of the country of origin or genetic material bank which gave them over for storage.

The building is divided into three rooms, each of which can store 1.5 million seeds. At present only one room is filled to capacity: it stores about 900,000 seeds of 5,000 varieties. Not all seeds are accepted for storage but only those which are important for plant growing, agribusiness and scientific studies, for example, wheat, rice and barley. Seeds are accepted approximately three times a year and are delivered by aircraft or ship.

The seeds are dried in advance and packed in special aluminum packages measuring 60х40х28 centimeters, so the depositary shelves can accommodate them all. Each package can hold about 500 seeds of one variety. Labels indicating the depositor are stuck on the boxes containing packages and then the information about where the package is stored is entered into the NordGen data base.

The material was prepared using information from the following websites: